Sunday, 17 October 2010

One wedding and two sermons

The VW camper vans were back at St. Cuthbert's yesterday as we celebrated what looks like being the last wedding of the season. Congratulations to Jayne Swinburne and Stephen Colllins - and sorry about the quality of the picture, snatched on my mobile phone just before they left for their reception.

I've finally got round to committing some of my preaching to a computer file. Last week on the healing of Naaman and the Ten Lepers - click here. There's quite a difference I think between St. Luke's take on the healing of the ten, one of whom -a Samaritan - returns to give thanks and St. Mark's version in which only one is healed. Mark has healing come by the touch of Jesus, the compassion and humanity of Christ reaching across the gulf formerly imposed by notions of ritual cleanliness and defilement. Luke keeps the intial healing at a distance without even a word of healing from Jesus - much more like the healing of Naaman, whom the prophet heals without even leaving his house. The difference in Luke is in the response of gratitude - and where it comes from...

This week, me again, on the parable of the widow and the unjust judge - the whole homily is here. I found last week's recourse to court judgements in the process leading up to the sale of Liverpool Football Club quite an illuminating way in to my exploration of the story. And while the parable has a clear point to make about persistence in prayer, there are also implications concerning justice which go wider than the legal system.

For those who don't want to click through to the whole thing, here's the conclusion:

... If the parable has a single point it’s simply to say that Jesus is making a comparison between an unjust judge who finally gets worn down to do what is right, and a righteous God who is always on our side. If the poor widow finally gets her way by her pleading, then we should be ready to call on God - and keep asking because he hears our prayers. It may not always seem that way. But that is the message we can take away from the story.

But remember that parables are not there merely to be explained. They’re there for the impact they make on those who hear them. This one begs the question, where is justice to be found? What is the integrity of those who administer the Law? Are the odds stacked against the poor? Does the legal system favour those who have the money to keep going back with more and more specious arguments? How remote is the whole system from ordinary people? I wonder how the widow in the story even gets near to the judge to plead with him. She can gain access to him for the sake of telling the story - but could she do so in real life? - or would she be more like that character in another parable, the poor man, Lazarus, lying with festering wounds at the rich man’s gate and never even noticed by him?

This is not just about the legal system either. It’s about the sort of society we want to live in. Is there justice in terms of access to health and social care? - or is it a lottery depending on where you live, on being able to argue for your rights, or in having the money to buy your way in? Are our children and young people equitably served by schools and the wider education system? - why is it that certain universities seem to be largely the preserve of students from a certain sort of school, and is that right? - and are still more from poorer families going to be put off from trying to get into the system by the costs they will incur? Is it the case that everybody should expect to have to suffer through government cuts? It seems a strange sort of justice which argues that well-off people should not complain about the loss of universal Child Benefit because poor people will also have to take their share of the pain - how much can the less well-off be expected to give up?

This is not the time for politicking - but I think we have to see that the Gospel has political implications. The quest of the widow for justice in today’s parable isn’t just a fiction that doesn’t touch us. It begs the question what does justice require now? Only if we ask that question can we be serious about seeking justice from God - about expecting that he will hear our prayers… because what are we going to pray for?

“There was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for his people.” This is the worst sort of person there could be in Jesus’ book. Because when Jesus sums up the Law he says,

The first commandment is this:
‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind,
and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
There is no other commandment greater than these.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

So fear that God who is to be loved. Show that you love your neighbours by seeking justice for them. That’s the Law - and it’s free for all.

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